To say the last week of May was not too shabby is an understatement and, while there were no new blazing rarities, a late spring wader-rush delivered those missing ingredients from the seasonal smörgåsbord we are used to dipping into at this time of the year.
Unsurprisingly, wildfowl took very much the back seat this week, with just the lingering drake Red-crested Pochard at Pitsford Res on 27th, followed by an impressive raft of thirteen Common Scoters seeing out the whole day at Stanford Res on 1st.
The first Quail of the year was heard at Blueberry Farm in the Brampton Valley – an area with a track record for producing this species over many years. Having become a much scarcer visitor these days, though, the question is will there be many – or even any – more as the summer unfolds?
With last week ending on a high note in the form of a Black-winged Stilt at Summer Leys LNR, this week opened with the same bird still present, early on 27th, before quickly melting away out of sight of the early morning observers, never to be seen again.
Surprisingly for late May/early June, other waders were nothing less than prolific at a time when passage is normally all but done. Two more Grey Plovers helped boost this species’ relatively poor numbers to date with one at Lilbourne Meadows NR on 29th and the other – obligingly staying overnight – at Clifford Hill GP on 1st and 2nd. The same site also produced two unseasonal Golden Plovers on the evening of the latter of these dates.
Although Ringed Plovers don’t qualify as scarce migrants as far as weekly reviews are concerned, it’s always interesting when birds come through in numbers in late spring to try identifying them to race. Rather than those seen on a regular basis, i.e. British breeding hiaticula, those later birds are often of the subtly different race tundrae – or perhaps even psammodroma – which are commonly referred to as ‘Tundra’ Ringed Plovers, on their way to their mainly Arctic breeding grounds. Birds were identified as showing such characteristics on 31st, when at least eight were at Lilbourne Meadows, rising to twelve there on 2nd, while at least eleven visited Stanwick GP on 1st and five were at Clifford Hill on 2nd.
Following the only Turnstone of the year, at the latter site on the more typical date of 10th May, further late arrivals followed this week with four at Stanwick, briefly, on 27th and singles at Summer Leys on 30th and 1st, Ditchford GP on 1st and Clifford Hill on 2nd.
If previous years are anything to go by, we might be blessed with one spring Curlew Sandpiper if we’re lucky but three together in various stages of moult to summer plumage, at Lilbourne Meadows, was a real treat on 29th.
And, just when we’d all but given up hope of getting any, along came the Sanderlings – a veritable rush at the eleventh hour. Kicking off on 29th, six dropped in at Summer Leys and three visited Clifford Hill. These were quickly followed on 31st by four more at Summer Leys, two at separate birds on the dam at Stanford and singles at Clifford Hill and on Pitsford’s dam. The 1st saw a different individual at the latter site, plus one at Summer Leys and two at Stanwick, followed the next day by twos at both DIRFT 3 and Clifford Hill. Impressive numbers by any standards.
A Little Stint – the first for 2023 – was a nice find at Stanwick on 30th but it was not one for hanging around, having flown off north-east shortly after its discovery. Another Wood Sandpiper, at Lilbourne Meadows on 2nd, further boosted numbers in what has turned out to be an unusually productive spring for this smart little Tringa.
More modest fare appeared in the form of Greenshanks – another wader which has appeared in higher numbers than usual this year. Four were together at Lilbourne Meadows on 27th, dropping to two the next day, with one remaining until 2nd. Singles visited Stanford on 27th and 31st and two appeared at Summer Leys on 2nd.
One can only speculate on the reasons for the late passage of some of these waders. Strong, prolonged and persistent north-easterly winds, throughout much of the month, may have served to hold back many of these birds in their attempts to reach their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and the Arctic. We may never know …
A late rush of Black Terns saw six sites being visited. Stanford produced the highest count of eight on 1st, while four were there on 2nd and one on 29th. Boddington Res held five on the latter date, Pitsford three on 31st and one on 27th, Thrapston GP’s Titchmarsh LNR produced at least two on 2nd, following singles there on 30th and 1st. Single birds visited Stanwick on 31st and 1st and one was at Clifford Hill on 31st. The latter site also pulled in its, and the county’s, second Little Tern of the year on the same date.
A tight flock of fifteen Arctic Terns went north-east through Ditchford GP’s Irthlingborough Lake & Meadows LNR on 30th.
Back at Clifford Hill, a Yellow-legged Gull was present there on 2nd.
A White Stork was reported from a flooded field near Oundle on 28th.
It was down to Ospreys to fill this week’s raptors’ slot, with Hollowell producing singles on 27th, 1st and 2nd, while others visited Stanford on 28th, Biggin Lake, Oundle on 30th, Thrapston GP on 30th and Ravensthorpe Res on 31st.
Once again, there were no scarce passerines …